The European Commission’s negotiating mindset is dictated by emotions rather than pragmatic politics

The European Commission’s negotiating mindset is dictated by emotions rather than pragmatic politics

Britain is leaving the EU and some of my fellow continental Europeans are struggling to control their emotions. They get carried away by grievance (“the Brits are spoiling it for us”), temptation of revenge (“we will make them pay for this”) and the need for exemplary punishment (“the EU is perfect”) in order to prevent the exit of any other EU members.

All of these feelings are quite well known to me, as a Czech, from the time of the division of the Czechoslovak federation. I remember how important it was not to succumb to such emotions, because of our desire to have good relations with Slovakia twenty years later. We had to be broad-minded and pragmatic to achieve that goal.

From the outset of the Brexit negotiations, it was clear that the European Commission was unable to control the above-mentioned emotions. The temptation of revenge trumped composure. The EU clearly wants to punish the United Kingdom, but the right to terminate EU membership is part of the Lisbon Treaty. No one should be punished for using his legal right, yet this shows how distant is the EU from traditional European values, as well as an inability to act responsibly and within democratic principles.

The temptation of revenge outbalanced other reasonable solutions during the disintegration of Yugoslavia – causing harm to the other country, even for the price of apparent self-harm. Still now relations among post-Yugoslav countries are complicated.

The Czechoslovakian scenario was focused on the reduction of loss and damage. Federal cooperation was transformed into a set of bilateral agreements within a couple of months. We started with simple problems and proceeded gradually to more complex ones. As the number of agreements rose, the atmosphere became more positive and feelings of insecurity diminished.

So why has the EU been proceeding in the opposite direction? It is because it favours its propagandistic goals over pragmatic political solutions. It is clear how deep is the European Union’s deficit of democracy. It is certain that the free trade deal is the absolute minimum that needs to be agreed on. If that issue had been solved at the outset, both sides would be more open to negotiate other questions.

Why has the European Union postponed negotiations on trade relations to the end? Thousands of EU citizens work in companies that export to the UK – there are more people who are significantly affected within the EU than in the UK itself. The jobs of these people are being put in question by the European Commission.

Instead of strengthening trust and stability, the European Commission is fostering doubts and uncertainty by postponing this issue to the end. The European Union is effectively taking these people as hostages and the result could be more unemployed citizens on the European side of the Channel than on the British one.

This is an abridged version of an essay shortly to be published a part of a collection by the Red Cell.